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Things may look rosier in Westminster, but Ed is standing on the edge of a precipice

Whose party is it anyway?After a dreadful summer, Ed had little reason to fear PMQs this week. His standing in comparison with both Cameron and Clegg is considerably enhanced by their defeat over Syria. Cameron is especially damaged and months of hard work by Lynton Crosby are down the drain. Voters, who oppose any involvement in Syria by a two to one majority, would not be impressed by a swift repeat of the debate. And though brother David has now admitted he wouldn’t have done what Ed did last week, their mum (who I’m told was at last Wednesday’s Stop the War demo in Westminster) is justifiably proud.

But the improved scene at Westminster is not matched by the way things are for Labour outside the bubble. TIGMOO (this great movement of ours) is very unhappy, especially the half that actually voted for Ed. And we’re not just talking about the left. An entirely manufactured Falkirk “scandal”, the radical downgrading of the link with the unions whilst giving away powers to “supporters” who pay nothing to the party, and the financial disaster they fear will follow have alienated far more than the usual suspects.

Tom Watson, for example, was fully signed up to New Labour back in the day, and backed Balls for the Leadership, leading most other Balls-backers into the Ed Miliband camp for the decisive round. There’s little doubt he is in the McCluskey camp now.

The GMB, Labour-loyalist to its core, it and its predecessors on the centre-right of the party for a century, is so unhappy it is to cut its funding of the party by over £1m per year (though this is still more than the party would receive if Ed Miliband has its way).

The only way Ed’s plan could even begin to stack up financially is if Labour forms a government in 2015 and introduces state funding of political parties. “Getting big money out of politics,” as John Denham MP describes it in the New Statesman today, would actually divert big money away from hard pressed public services to political parties. You don’t get to “opt-in” to state funding, and there’d be less chance to “opt out” of funding political parties than people have now. It is likely to be deeply unpopular with the public, for whom politicians are still way less popular than trade union officials. The Tories are against it and will use it in an election campaign. And funding politicians on the basis of past political performance would be undemocratic — a major barrier against future political change.

What Ed Miliband is unfortunately doing is lining up with the Tories who are attacking the political role of trade unions in the Lobbying (aka Gagging) bill. The political role that led the trade unions to found the Labour Party in the first place.

And the effect could be a financial disaster. A certain consequence if Labour fails to win the next election, or to get state funding legislation through.

Party activists are demoralised about the threat and trade unionists are demoralised about the insult — none more so, of course, than those in Unite. Many media pundits like to present the issue as a battle between Len McCluskey and Ed Miliband. These issues are never the clashes of titans that the tabloids make them, but if this one was such a clash, Len McCluskey versus David Sainsbury would be closer to the mark. Put like that, there’s little doubt whose side most Labour and union activists would take.

David Sainsbury is the man who provided the £millions to Progress to manufacture and stir up the Falkirk “scandal” few now believe happened, that was the pretext for an attack on union funding for which there was no demand in the trade unions.

No trade unionists are clamouring to change the way political funds and Labour affiliation work. No-one is clamouring to vote in primaries. There is nothing undemocratic about trade unions deciding to do things by a majority vote and then doing them, including affiliating to the Labour Party. Trade unions are all about making a collective decision, and collectively abiding by it to take collective action.

Len McCluskey would like an agreement with Ed Miliband, not a battle. But his troops are mighty restless. In Scotland, the leaders of Unite have decided to boycott Labour’s conference. Who can blame them after the treatment they’ve had over Falkirk? Their members, and Labour voters, have been defecting to the SNP in droves.

In Len McCluskey’s backyard, the north west of England, the union’s regional committee have passed a motion calling on its executive to take the necessary steps to disaffiliate from the party. When disaffiliation was last discussed at a rules revision conference, the motion was tied and declared “not carried”. The reality is that Len has his back against a wall in preventing his members disaffiliating from the party he supports.

Remind me, what was Ed’s core vote strategy all about? Oh yes, thank you Peter and John (again). Those core voters who abandoned the party under New Labour and are telling pollsters they’re thinking of returning. Many of the are trade union members. Do we want to mend the link or break it, Ed? Do take a look over the precipice, and think about taking a step back.



  1. P Spence says:

    Jon- Ed was ill advised to announce reforms before any wider party and TU consultation. It was a massive and costly mistake. It smacks of a terrible inexperience. The likelihood of TUs devoting resources to the recruitment of members to the Labour Party on the grand scale required to compensate for the lose of income must be low.

  2. Laban says:

    Then isn’t Ed lucky that he’s only facing Cameron and Osborne?

    “His standing in comparison with both Cameron and Clegg is considerably enhanced by their defeat over Syria.”

    Do you think so? His stand wasn’t a principled one, but I doubt anyone noticed or cared.

    My theory FWIW is that at a time when everyone’s strapped for cash and wondering how they’ll pay the electric bill or whether their kids will find jobs, sorting out the Middle East drops well down the priority list.

  3. Paul McLean says:

    Miliband and other parts of the Labour Right appear determined to feed Labour a kind of slow acting poison. For reasons of their own some of that Labour Right seem determined to swallow it.

  4. Peter Willsman says:

    Up to now Ed has given the impression that he is sleepwalking to disaster.He seems not to realise that the Blairites want the LP to become the SDP Mark2 and that he is doing their dirty work for them.On the doorstep no one cares a sweet FA about the link, they care about all the usual issues that are under attack from the Govt.If there is any truth that Ed is looking for a nonsense Clause4 moment then he is a fool and not the person CLPD thought they were supporting for Leader.We must hope that my old college mate Ray Collins can find a way forward that keeps our Party as a Labour and Trade Union party and puts the Blairites back in the dustbin of history.In other words,a working class party,and not the SDP.CLPD is working with Ray to achieve this goal.If there is any weakening and the Blairites are not well and truly in the dustbin,then it will come down to a vote at the Spring Confce.I am confident that a clear majority of CLPs and Unions will back the working class.Yours in comradeship PW.

  5. John p Reid says:

    Peter Wilsman,you do realise that the majority of SDP votes were from working class former labour voters ,maybe no one cares about the union link, but if unions start pushing for policies that working class people aren’t interested in like renationalisetion, they’ll start caring about it turn, agree with the. REst of what you say though,

  6. James Martin says:

    Unfortunately Peter some of us knew from the start that Milliband minor was a fool (or at least he never fooled me, or got my vote in the leadership election).

    Funnily enough as a GMB member myself I rather like my union’s new found independent voice and far from being upset by what has happened I can see that it opens up a lot of campaiging possibilities if money is spent on union organisation and campaigning rather than being thrown down the new labour drain with nothing to show for it.

    If you want a working class party then you need an organised working class, and that is made in the workplace rather than the sparsely attended CLP meeting…

  7. John p Reid says:

    James Martin, if you like the GMab cutting its funding why do you say that Ed has been foolish, as he’s gave you what you wanted, and it hasn’t effected his popularity,

  8. Rob the cripple says:

    I think it’s time to stop playing games, we did not have a vote on these cuts it’s been done without any ballot. It is now time for the GMB to stop playing games and give us a vote on whether we are in the Labour party or out.

  9. James Martin says:

    Rob, the issue of a political fund in principle is voted on at least every ten years under the Tory anti-TU laws. Last time GMB members were ballotted on this if memory serves we got a 90% or thereabouts vote in favour.

    The more specific issue of affiliation to political parties is a conference decision, while the issue of funding (for anything) is an executive decision with conference being the final power one way or another.

    Therefore so far the GMB leadership have acted entirely properly within the rules of the union.

  10. Rob the cripple says:

    I have only once voted on the levy. And when they asked me to vote a few years back it was under the understand that the Union would be using some of the political funding for it own political agenda and not forgetting that less then I think 37% bothered to vote, not a lot really 90% of the 37%.

    But the fact is this tit for tat is not helping anyone and the fact is the result about Falkirk came into day, not looking clever for Miliband is it, and to be honest Miliband should be looking as a leader as a diplomat if he cannot sort out the mess he’s in now then sadly the public will decide Labour best left in opposition as they have been before..

    I do not know if I had my time working again I do not for the life of me think I’d bother with a Union or the Labour party really.

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